Three team trades are complicated, but they are done. Here's essentially how this goes down. We'll identify three teams here, team A, team B and team C. Team A and B are the primaries in the trade, team C will be our intermediary.
- Team A is in playoff contention, they desperately need a closer. But don't have the right players to pull off the trade directly with team B, but has players who are desirable to team C.
Team B is out of contention, has a closer on an expiring contract, they don't want anyone in team A's system enough to trade their closer, but have had their eye on a couple of guys in Team C's system.
Team C is usually out of contention as well, but can sometimes be in contention (it doesn't usually benefit a contending team to do this, but an out of contention team can do well in a trade like this).
So team A will send their players who weren't the right mix for team B to team C, and team C will send their players to team B, who will send the closer to team A.
A recently revealed potential scenario actually has some interesting details and insights into this. The author there gets into the details, but it amounts to this:
- Tampa wants young, good positional talent for David Price
- Seattle doesn't have any, but has some decent young pitching
- Chicago has young near ML ready positional talent and needs young pitching
A deal like this that has Seattle sending young pitching to Chicago, Chicago sending young positional talent to Tampa and Tampa sending Price to Seattle could workout. However, it requires that all sides, especially the intermediary thinking they are getting a good deal. This is largely why these deals don't happen. If a team doesn't have the players to get a deal done directly, it's very difficult to convince a third party that to give up their prospects (or ML talent in some cases) for players who weren't good enough for the 2 parties to swap directly.